Our own Sharyn takes the reins on this post. She shares her frustration trying to cope with anxiety and about how difficult it seems to get mental health accommodations for teachers while students’ needs seem more quickly and easily addressed. Why aren’t the needs of the people who care for our students given the same considerations? Sharyn shares her story here.
There can be no doubt that teaching is a stressful profession and many teachers must cope with anxiety, too.. It is not just the day-to-day of it, the lesson planning, the paper grading, the duty schedules, and the never-ending meetings. There is also so much emotional stress that comes with the decision to lead a classroom full of future citizens. Today’s teachers are responsible for so much more than just delivering the curriculum. Teachers are also expected to be aware of, monitor, nurture, and intervene when necessary for students’ social-emotional well-being. But who is looking out for those looking out for students? In my recent experience, not those in charge of our schools.
Teacher gets sent to the nurse’s office
Let me illustrate this through a personal experience. A health issue recently caused me to visit our school nurse. I was sitting in the health office with the school health tech, the district nurse, and my direct https://transparencyinteaching.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/joshua-hoehne-wWkCAnmFF20-unsplash-1-526×296-1.jpegistrator, because my blood pressure had skyrocketed, and I had chest pain, which had developed this year. To help me relax, the nurse asked me to imagine things that make me happy, like puppies or babies.
Well, my thoughts immediately landed on my dog, Rex, a good-natured retriever mix, who is my happy place. Don’t get me wrong, I love my human family, but my dog’s unconditional love and intuition are unsurpassed and have often helped me cope with anxiety. In fact, I rescued my beloved pup precisely because of what I know about how dogs help with the well-being of their humans. As a result of my school health scare experience, my dog is now enrolled in training to become a cardiac service dog. (I did have my symptoms evaluated by my physician. The good news is that my heart is fine; the bad news is that my blood pressure, not so much. The doctor concluded that my issues are anxiety-driven).
Doggie Knows Best
I realized my dog was a huge health benefit earlier this year. I have been taking Rex to work with me this year to assist in teaching my veterinary science classes. He is the perfect specimen for the students! They can check mucus membranes and trim nails on this ideal gentleman of a dog. Rex continued his daily visits until the https://transparencyinteaching.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/joshua-hoehne-wWkCAnmFF20-unsplash-1-526×296-1.jpegistration notified me that it was time for the lessons with the dog to end.
I noticed that when my dog wasn’t in class with me, I felt more anxious and overwhelmed. Rex is so in tune with me that he somehow knows to sit beside me when he senses my blood pressure rising. He has even placed a paw in my lap.
As a teacher, I understand the importance of creating a positive and supportive learning environment for my students. However, it is also important to prioritize my own emotional well-being to provide the best possible education for my students. This is why I should be able to bring my dog to class with me.
A classroom’s best friend
The presence of a dog can have numerous benefits for emotional well-being. Studies have shown that interaction with dogs can reduce stress and anxiety levels and improve mood (Beetz A, Uvnäs-Moberg K, Julius H, Kotrschal 2010). For me, having my dog by my side provides a sense of comfort and support that helps me manage the stresses of teaching.
In addition, using therapy dogs in classrooms has been found to enhance social-emotional learning and improve students’ overall well-being. Dogs have been shown to help. According to Kropp and Shupp (2019), therapy dogs in schools were found to enhance children’s social competence and improve their social-emotional learning skills. By having a dog in my classroom, I believe my students would benefit from a more positive and inclusive learning environment that promotes feelings of connectedness and support. Lord knows my 9th graders could use a little social-emotional competence enhancement.
Red tape leash on Rover
With this realization, I decided to ask for a workplace accommodation to have my dog as an emotional support animal while he is in training to become my cardiac service dog. This proved to be a HUGE hassle. Two months later, and after much paperwork and many meetings, I’m still without Rex and working with the district to get these accommodations in place. The https://transparencyinteaching.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/joshua-hoehne-wWkCAnmFF20-unsplash-1-526×296-1.jpegistration is still balking at the idea, but the evidence is clear to me: Dog = less stress= less heart problems= better teacher.
This situation makes me wonder why it is so hard to get teachers’ accommodations when we readily provide them for students. Even as the IEP/504 specialists work on writing up the necessities their students will need, we still provide accommodations to students. Why are we hesitant to allow these same types of accommodations for staff? My health issues have caused me to miss more than my allotted days this year, and most could have been avoided if my dog had been present.
Mad as a mad dog
This situation at school seems paradoxical, and I’ll warn you, it makes me a bit heated. Let me explain.
As I am getting all this, no more dog or dog activities until HR approves it, what happens? The school gets a fucking mascot- a Scottie dog because our school team’s name is The Tartans! They are like, “Oh, look at our cute little Scottie! “ Then, at a staff meeting in our huge auditorium, https://transparencyinteaching.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/joshua-hoehne-wWkCAnmFF20-unsplash-1-526×296-1.jpeg says this doggie mascot will be visiting classrooms because, you know, pets are good for kids.
I was like, “What the fuck?” I actually said that out loud, and a couple of people looked at me cross-eyed. I’m thinking, what the fuck are they talking about? They are going to bring a new dog around on campus to all the classrooms, but my dog, which is super well-behaved, already knows the doggie bathroom is not in the classroom, that the kids love, that they can stick their fingers in his fucking mouth and he does not care, has been banished from campus!
My students heard this and were aware of the irony. They commented. “Did you see the school got a mascot? Like, isn’t that little two-faced? Like, why would they do that and not let you bring Rex?” I just shook my head and said I didn’t know.
My students, of course, want to stir up a bunch of shit to get Rex back in class, as they cannot bear the unfairness of it all (and they really just love Rex, but who wouldn’t?), but I keep telling them to hold off because I’m working on a plan. It’s just taking longer than I want.
Teacher’s (and students’) best friend
Of course, I understand that bringing a dog into a classroom is not without its challenges. It requires careful consideration of the dog’s needs and temperament, as well as the needs and safety of my students. However, Rex has already proven himself capable, and the students have proven themselves able to handle it. The benefits of having my dog in my classroom outweigh any potential risks.
In conclusion, I believe that as a teacher, I should have the option to bring my dog to class for my emotional well-being. The presence of a dog can provide comfort and support, promote responsibility and care, and enhance social-emotional learning for my students. By creating a positive and inclusive learning environment, I can provide the best possible education for my students while also prioritizing my own well-being. Moreover, maybe I won’t need all my sick days next year.
Beetz A, Uvnäs-Moberg K, Julius H, Kotrschal K. Psychosocial and psychophysiological effects of human-animal interactions: the possible role of oxytocin. Front Psychol. 2012 Jul 9;3:234. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00234. PMID: 22866043; PMCID: PMC3408111.
Kropp & Shupp, M. M. (2019). Review of the research: Are therapy dogs in classrooms beneficial? – ed. Department of Education Forum on Public Policy . Retrieved May 7, 2023, from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1173578.pdf